Kashmiri teacher dies in police custody, day after arrest; death triggers protests amidst call for shutdown

The custodial death of Rizwan Ahmad Pandit, a teacher from Awantipora, has triggered outrage across Kashmir with his house now becoming the centre of anti-government protests in the Valley

Ishfaq Naseem March 19, 2019 22:49:30 IST
Kashmiri teacher dies in police custody, day after arrest; death triggers protests amidst call for shutdown
  • Rizwan Ahmad Pandit, a teacher from Awantipora in Kashmir, died in police custody on Monday, a day after he was picked from his house

  • His death has death has triggered outrage in Kashmir with his house becoming the centre of anti-government protests on Tuesday

  • Pandit's body was handed over to the family on Tuesday via an ambulance, two kilometres away from their residence

  • A magisterial inquiry under Section 176 of CrPC as well as a separate police investigation has also initiated in the jurisdictional area of the incident

  • Pandit was arrested in August 2018 over a fake case, and released in January 2019, claims the victim's family

 Awantipora: On Sunday night, security forces cordoned the house of Rizwan Ahmad Pandit. A day later, his family came to know about his death in police custody.

Pandit's death has triggered outrage in Kashmir. The victim's house has now become the centre of anti-government protests with the road outside it strewn with the stones after the youth fought with the police.

Kashmiri teacher dies in police custody day after arrest death triggers protests amidst call for shutdown

Youth hurls stones at security forces during a protest against the death of Rizwan Pandit in Police custody. PTI

The Jammu and Kashmir Police responded by firing pellet guns and tear gas shells, during which at least four youth received injuries in the eyes, said Aatif Ahmad, a local resident. Some protesters received injuries in other body parts, Ahmad added.

The smoke from the tear gas shells filled the air and burning tyres blocked the movement towards the police station that lied only a few blocks away from Pandit’s house.

Pandit's death has come to light at a time when the environment in the Valley is already tense with the government crackdown on separatist leaders and the arrest of cadres of the religious-political group Jamat-e-Islami.

By late Tuesday afternoon, Rizwan’s body had not been handed over to the family as they were asked first to get it from the police control room (PCR) in Srinagar and later from Pampore police station. The family refused and sought that they should be handed Pandit's body by the Awantipora police, which had picked him on Sunday. The family later confirmed that Pandit's body was handed over to them via an ambulance, two kilometres away from their residence.

On Sunday night, the police had raided Pandit's house. During the raid, they had asked his father, mother and brothers to gather in a single room. The police then took the mobile phones and two laptops, which belonged to other members of the family.

"My son was innocent. He was not a militant. He was killed without any reason,” said Pandit's mother, Haneefa, sitting on the verandah of their house among wailing women.

The police said that Pandit was in custody in connection with a militancy-related case. "In pursuance of investigation in a terror case, one suspect Rizwan Pandit, a resident of Awantipora was in police custody. The said person died in police custody," a police spokesperson said.

A magisterial inquiry has been ordered as per the procedure laid down in Section 176 of CrPC. "Separately, police investigation has also been initiated in the jurisdictional area of the incident," the police said.

On Sunday night at the time of Pandit's arrest, family members claim that security forces also searched the houses of his two uncles and warned them not to raise any "hue and cry".

Pandit's father Assaudallah said, that Pandit was a teacher at a local private school and offered tuitions on a part-time basis. He also taught as a guest faculty at a polytechnic college associated with the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) in Awantipora.

"The authorities only want that there should be no peace in Kashmir, that is why they killed my son," he said.

According to Pandit's brother Mubashir, in 2018, the local police had arrested Pandit in a false case. He says that Pandit was taken to custody by the Awantipora police on 16 August and kept under detention for 10 days. After 10 days, the police registered a "false case" against Pandit, claiming to have arrested him from the IUST campus in August 2018, said Mubashir adding that “weapons were shown to have been recovered from his possession”.

“He was not at the university when the police showed to have been recovered weapons from his possession from among the bushes. He was at the police station, a false case was registered against him. The police are doing all this to earn promotions," he claimed.

After his arrest in August 2018, Pandit was booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and detained at the Kotbalwal Jail in Jammu. He, however, was released in January 2019 after the PSA case was quashed against him.

"My brother was doing his job properly and had also helped out local boys by offering them education after the floods in 2014 and the 2016 agitation," said Mubashir.

"During the raid on Sunday, the security forces also took away my laptop and that of my cousin who is a contractor. They are harassing Kashmiris,” he added.

A local resident, Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, said that there's fear among the people. "We fear for our lives as the security forces know only how to commit excesses,” he said.

"Pandit's death is a loss to our nation. The local boys depended on him for education,” added another resident, Jalaudin.

"The police is continuing with the killings only to get promotions. They only know how to invoke false cases,” said Assaudullah, Pandit's father.

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